Private company offering free services sparks privatisation fears

A private company offering patients midwifery services free of charge and without an NHS contract has sparked fears among GPs of fragmented care and increased NHS privatisation.

Dr Holden: concered over 'underbidding' for contracts
Dr Holden: concered over 'underbidding' for contracts

Liverpool LMC raised concerns after One to One Midwives, a private company holding a contract with NHS Wirral, began offering its services free of charge to women in Liverpool.

Joanne Parkington, clinical director of One to One Midwives, said that the company offered its home birthing services to women in Liverpool as an NHS service, despite not holding a contract with NHS Liverpool.

‘We are an NHS qualified provider,’ Ms Parkington said. 'If we were paid it would be as an NHS provider.'

Liverpool LMC Secretary Dr Rob Barnett said the company could be providing its services for free in on order to win an NHS contract.

'It is as if it is done with a view to make it a fait accompli – they’re providing the service as a way to get paid for it,' he said.

He warned that other private companies could also use similar tactics to win NHS contracts.  

‘It's concerning in as much as we are used to providing joined up care and this is an example of care being fragmented,' he said.

‘I have no doubt that this will happen more and more. This is one of the unforeseen consequences of changes brought in by the last government with what is now "any qualified provider".’

Ms Parkington said that winning a contract was not the reason why One to One Midwives began providing services in Liverpool and that women who used the service chose to do so. But she said One to One Midwives would like to become a NHS provider of midwifery services in Liverpool as well as other parts of the UK.

‘We’re talking to all the CCGs at the moment we are making everyone aware that we are a choice option,’ she said.

A spokeswoman for Liverpool PCT said: ‘Liverpool PCT commissions Liverpool Women’s Hospital to provide maternity services for women across Liverpool, including home births.

'This service has been commissioned to ensure women get an appropriate package of care throughout their pregnancy and beyond. Choice of place of birth is currently offered to women. One to One is not commissioned to provide these services in Liverpool.’

The GPC has warned that 'underbidding' for NHS contracts by private companies could lead to falling standards of care.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said: ‘This is my biggest fear of all – this is about underbidding for contracts. You either don’t have enough doctors or you have to starting cutting doctors. This then puts the remaining doctors at risk and patients at risk.

‘If there is only a certain amount of money then something has got to give,’ he warned.

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